I work on a very small team that helps develop professional development coursework and programming for students. One of my colleagues is consistently late to meetings and is always dropping the ball on deadlines. When asked about why something wasn't done, they always have an excuse as to why they couldn't get to it. I've tried to put deadlines on the team calendar, remind this individual during meetings, and even spoke to my supervisor but nothing seems to work. My supervisor just gives this individual a pass and says they've had a difficult time. This not only impacts my ability to get my work done but also impacts our students and instructors who then end up with last minute changes to their activities and schedules. I'm hitting my wits end and don't know what to do.
Struggling with Slackers
Dear Struggling with Slackers,
I’ll be honest. I had to consider this question for a bit and really dig deep to answer in a way that I hope will be helpful to you. I, along with everyone else in the world, havehad to navigate working with this person you describe. Have I grown in my ability to handle a challenging colleague effectively over time? Probably. Do I have a silver bullet answer for you? Certainly not. What I can do is give suggestions that, if you’re willing to deploy, may help improve the situation.
First, it is critical to thoroughly evaluate the situation. Identify to what extent the colleague’s work, missing deadlines, or lateness you referenced is directly impacting your team’s ability to meet deadlines or complete projects to the established criteria. The last thing you want to do is to be perceived as the nagging colleague to your team members because you seem unable to flex to different work styles or values within your team. For example, if the quality of work is high but the timeliness is off, focus on your own work and growth and push the other colleagues’ behaviours out of focus. You may also consider praising the colleague for the successful outcome while seeking incremental improvements on their timeliness or seek greater understanding about their work values to contextualize their behaviors.
If you’re certain their work is directly impacting your ability to do your job or succeed, then start by documenting the behaviors. This will require you to note actual situations with as much detail as possible--what the established expectations were, how this person has failed to deliver, and how it has impacted the team’s outcomes. While this is not your job, as the person that is affected most by this person’s professional behavior, you’ll need details on the actual scenarios where their performance (or lack thereof) has been most egregious and any attempts to work with them to achieve individual and team goals before speaking with them and if necessary their supervisor.
With the information you’ve documented, reach out and request a meeting with this person. Be upfront that you’re interested in talking about teamwork and opportunities you see to improve team outcomes. Set your intention for the meeting in your mind and be sure you feel calm and balanced in your approach. You won’t get anywhere if you’re accusatory and exasperated. Now more than ever, we need to consider all the things that might be contributing to this person’s lateness and propensity to make excuses for their work. Remember that everyone has challenges in their life that you know nothing about. Your job is not as judge and jury, but as a colleague who truly wants to understand why this is happening and how you can help reverse the trend. Share your list of situations that you’ve documented and how it undermines the team.
If meeting with this person doesn’t seem appropriate to the culture of your organization or realistic in providing positive outcomes, take your documentation to your supervisor and lay it out for them. Ask them to set up a meeting between the three of you to discuss these situations that keep occurring or ask your supervisor to take this up specifically with this person one on one. Although you may have raised concerns with your supervisor already, be direct with your supervisor that you would like to find a solution to this as it greatly affects your work and the work of your team. If you keep having to circle back to this, do so. Doing so doesn’t make you annoying and whiny, it makes you committed to finding solutions and supporting your team.
Ultimately, it’s time to engage with your colleague, understanding it may be perceived as confrontational no matter how hard you try for it not to be. But confrontation, done thoughtfully, can yield huge results and maybe the only thing that can. A last resort option that won’t fix the problem is to take away high priority or time-sensitive assignments from this person. As much as possible, decide as a team to simply take on the work and avoid relying on the colleague who cannot and will not deliver. If asked, tell this person that it seems like they have a lot on their plate and you're taking on the additional workload temporarily. Again, this is not a long-term fix, but it may help you advance the situation towards a resolution. Most of all, it might help you regain some of your wits!
P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Searching for Safe Partners? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!
Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.